Nightwing Is Back: A Brief History of Dick

Dick Grayson as Nightwing is one of the DC Universe’s most popular characters, never has that been more true than in his latest incarnation as written by Tom Taylor beginning with last month’s 78th issue.

In issue #79 The WWG says: What if Batman set aside the cape and cowl to just focus on the work he could do as Bruce Wayne? We all know he’d never do that, but Dick Grayson seems interested in entertaining the idea now that he’s been given some serious funds.

However, as Tom Taylor guides him through this time in his life, it seems Dick will find out both the billionaire and the hero should exist. Because Dick is clearly believes if one has the means to impact the lives of others, they should. Well, Nightwing and Dick Grayson can, but in different ways.

Like the previous issue the book continues to depict a Dick Grayson we can believe in.

Taylor and artist Bruno Redondo are dancing in tandem and hit all the boxes effortlessly: deeply meaningful character development that appears effortless but bridges the present iteration to the one Marv Wolfman wrote in New Teen Titans.

Taylor even persuades me to believe in Dick and Barbara’s romance rivaling that of the one he had with Koriand’r/Starfire.

I’m all in for the ride.

Why Is Dick the Butt of so Many Jokes?

Slate: You’ve heard the gags, we all have. Slurs, cheap puns, and innuendo have dogged Bruce and Dick’s partnership from the moment it began in 1940. The editorially mandated addition of Robin the Boy Wonder —the first kid sidekick in comics — occurred less than one year after Batman’s debut, and it accomplished several things at once. It lightened the comic’s tone, a necessary move as the Caped Crusader was developing a reputation for murdering the bad guy; his publisher worried that parents’ groups would object. It also gave Batman—who was and remains, beneath all that bat-themed fetishist folderol, a detective in the Sherlock Holmes mode—a loyal Watson to whom he could explain his leaps of deductive reasoning. In giving Batman someone to care about, it raised the stakes. Most importantly, perhaps, it doubled the comic’s sales.

But gay subtext managed to insinuate itself into the Dynamic Duo’s dyad from the very start. The opening page of Robin’s debut story in the April 1940 issue of Detective Comics No. 38 featured an introductory scroll jammed with breathless declamatory copy about “THE SENSATIONAL CHARACTER FIND OF 1940 … ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER!”

It began, “The Batman, that weird figure of the night, takes under his protecting mantle an ally in his relentless fight against crime …”

Or at least, that’s how it was supposed to begin.

But the page’s letterer, tasked with squeezing a hell of a lot of text onto said scroll, unwittingly shoved the words “an” and “ally” so closely together as to effectively elide the space between them. Thus, the first thing readers ever learned about THE SENSATIONAL CHARACTER FIND OF 1940 was that he was someone whom Batman “took under his protecting mantle anally …”

So there it was, instantly coded into the poor kid’s narrative DNA. Maybe it was fate, then. Maybe everything that came after was unavoidable.

“A Cold Shower, a Big Breakfast!”

True, their partnership came factory-installed with unintended meta-meanings that read to us today like coyly coded messages. Later in that very first Robin story, for example, after young circus acrobat Dick Grayson’s parents are murdered by the mob, Batman swoops down upon the shaken youngster and matter-of-factly informs him, “I’m going to hide you in my home for a while.”

Thus young Dick became Bruce Wayne’s ward, and many stories in the ’40s and ’50s began by depicting the man and boy engaged together in some leisure-time pursuit. Again and again, however, said tableaux stubbornly bore a romantic, lavender-scented shading.

Take 1942’s Batman No. 13, which saw Bruce and Dick Owl-and-Pussycatting it up in a rowboat on a pond in a Gotham City park. Just the two of them. At night.

Or the panel of World’s Finest No. 59 from 1952, in which naked Bruce and Dick lie next to one another, languidly bronzing their brawny physiques under matching sun lamps.

People noticed. One person, in particular: Dr. Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist convinced that comic books were directly responsible for the scourge of juvenile delinquency, led a nationwide anti-comics crusade that proved hugely effective. He published his “research” (read: testimonials from his juvenile psychiatric patients strung together with anti-comics rhetoric) in a book called Seduction of the Innocent in the spring of 1954, just as he testified before Sen. Estes Kefauver’s Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

When it came to the Dynamic Duo, he seemed to relish drawing the reader’s attention to Wayne Manor’s “beautiful flowers in large vases” and the fact that Bruce was given to swanning about the estate in a dressing gown.

“It is like a wish-dream,” he famously wrote, “of two homosexuals living together.”

Fred Wertham, people. Surely one of history’s first ’shippers.

Even as Wertham was preparing to make his case on national television, the makers of the Batman comic unwittingly served him up fresh fodder. Batman No. 84 hit newsstands in April 1954, during Wertham’s Senate testimony. Its story “Ten Nights of Fear” begins with one of the most infamous panels in Batman’s 77-year history: Bruce and Dick waking up in bed together.

“Morning,” reads the narration. “And it begins like any other routine morning in the lives of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his ward, Dick Grayson …” We are thus explicitly told that this sharing of Bruce’s bed is common Bat-practice.

“C’mon Dick!” says Bruce, yawning. “A cold shower, a big breakfast!”

Remember: Queer readers didn’t see any vestige of themselves represented in the mass media of this era, let alone its comic books. And when queer audiences don’t see ourselves in a given work, we look deeper, parsing every exchange for the faintest hint of something we recognize. This is why, as a visual medium filled with silent cues like body language and background detail, superhero comics have proven a particularly fertile vector for gay readings over the years. Images can assert layers of unspoken meanings that mere words can never conjure. That panel of a be-toweled Bruce and Dick lounging together in their solarium, for example, would not carry the potent homoerotic charge it does, were the same scene simply described in boring ol’ prose.

They shuffled Dick Grayson off to college in 1970, effectively ending the Bruce–Dick partnership that had grown so weighted with gay meta-meanings over the decades.

Which, really, was all it took for heteronormativity to reassert itself, because while separately Batman and Robin came hardwired with vague gay associations (the fear of one’s secret identity being exposed, for example), it was only ever their status as a bonded male–male pair that had truly raised eyebrows.

Once out of Bruce’s shadow, Dick dutifully dated women and started his own superteam. Eventually he cast off the Robin identity for good, adopting the totally butch-badass nom de spandex Nightwing.